Freaky Fish from the Deep – Just In Time for Halloween

Hey everyone! Gearing up for Halloween, I’ve been looking at some of the freakier fish that I’ve been introduced to over the years. We get a lot of weird things in here, some are lumpy, some are crusty, some have large fangs, and some have no eyes. But some things we don’t often get to scrutinize are obscure deep water marine species, for obvious reasons. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries and read lots articles on deep sea species, newly discovered and others, and I always find them fascinating and frightening at the same time. With the increasing ability of scientists to explore the depths of the world’s oceans, it seems like we’re introduced to a new and amazing creature or creatures at every turn. One segment of the Blue Planet series on Discovery Channel was entirely dedicated to creatures nearly no one had ever seen before, all from ridiculous depths and conditions. From the crazy little pea-sized predators to huge lurking sharks and cephalopods, it truly is the most alien environment on the planet.
I came across this article of some rather ghostly fish recently in the news, the deepest living species filmed yet, and I thought I could share it with you all. These pasty white snailfish fish remind me of big tadpoles or brotulinas. Apparently they’re social creatures that swarmed to the bait dropped 5 miles down to the bottom of this Pacific trench. They’re simple yet you have to be amazed at the conditions where they exist with unimaginable pressure, temperatures and darkness. Anyway, the article is pretty interesting, so please take a minute to read it if you haven’t seen it anywhere already.

To read the article, click here, or check out the video below.

Thanks and enjoy!


Extreme Makeover: Aquarium Edition – Our 350 Gallon Cylinder Display

Have you ever gotten bored with your house and completely re-arranged your furniture just for fun? We here at That Fish Place/That Pet Place do it with our display aquariums. We get tired of looking at the same old tanks and get ants in our pants to re-model them. The most recent benefactor of this behavior is the 350 gallon acrylic cylinder tank in our Custom Aquatic Design Studio.

Over the first five years of operation, the display cylinder has had a few different themes as far as the fish that we had in the tank. For the last couple years its been a brackish community with puffers, scats, monos and catfish.

The decoration in the tank has been largely the same over this time, and was fairly limited because of the design of the tank. The tank itself is 4’ tall, and 4’ in diameter. Pretty big, however, there was a center overflow box in the tank that dominated the design. We hid the box as much as possible with a few hundred pounds of hand carved lava rock, but it was still the dominating feature.

The first thing we decided to do as part of the display’s extreme makeover was to remove the overflow box. We changed the filtration method from an overflow box wet/dry to a closed loop system. This would open up the tank visually, as well as add approximately 50 gallons to the total volume. To accomplish this, the overflow box had to be cut out. With the help of a few power tools and couple of busted knuckles later, the box came out without too much trouble. With the overflow removed, the interior of the tank was wide open, so I took advantage of the opportunity to repair some of the scratches that were on the inside of the tank. Anyone who has an acrylic tank can appreciate how easily they scratch.

Seriously limited in available space for filtration under the aquarium, I needed to come up with a system that would give us good performance, at the same time take up as little space as possible. What I decided on was a combination of a Aqua Ultraviolet Ultima II canister filter, and a series of Pentair aquatics Lifegard modular filters. The Ultima II filter will handle the mechanical and biological filtration. The Lifegard modular system includes a mechanical canister for water polishing, a chemical canister for activated carbon (or other chemical media), and a heater module. A 15 watt Aqua Ultraviolet sterilizer rounds out the filtration, and is the only carry-over from the original filtration set-up.

To really change the appearance of the aquarium, we kept the furniture to a minimum. A large
piece of driftwood is the centerpiece of the new decor, and it also acts as a cover for the central filtration return. Some strategically placed rocks and artificial plants hide the rest of the internal plumbing, as well as provide some cover and habitat for the new fish.

The new inhabitants will primarily be schooling tetras, and other South American community fish. The new, open design of the aquarium will be really spectacular as the numbers of schooling fish increase and mature.

One of the interesting aspects of cylindrical aquariums is the visual distortions that are created by the curved surface, everything inside looks much larger that it really is. Without the overflow box in the middle, everyone’s immediate reaction is that the tank looks much bigger than it used to, now that you can see all the way through the tank. This effect will really show off the brilliant colors of the tetras and other fish as they mature. So far the makeover has been a big hit.

Hmmm, what can I tear apart next?

I’ll let you know when I decide, so stay tuned for the next project!


Pistol Shrimp & Goby Mutualism

Pistol ShrimpBrandon here. Some of my favorite saltwater organisms are the pistol shrimp. There are several hundred species of these shrimp found throughout the world. They are not only found in tropical reefs but closer to home. I have heard these little guys snapping away in muddy areas right offshore in Virginia. Despite the characteristic that gives these creatures their name, snapping shrimp are usually peaceful little critters and interesting additions to a reef tank.

Pistol shrimps belong to the family Alpheidae. They are characterized by their one large claw responsible for the snapping sound they produce. These shrimp are usually known for their mutualistic relationship with certain gobies. The shrimp will dig and tend to a burrow in a sandy or muddy substrate while the goby stands guard at the entrance, watching for prey and predators. The shrimp will even close the entrance to the burrow at night to keep predators out. There are also colonial species of shrimp that live in sponges, somewhat like ants in an anthill.

What makes pistol shrimp fascinating is their enlarged claw. The closing of the claw in itself does not produce the snapping sound. Rather there is a groove in the claw which channels water out as it closes. The water is forced out at around 60 miles per hour. This speed produces an area of low pressure and forms a bubble. When the bubble collapses, intense sound, heat, and even light are produced. This is where the snapping sound that we hear comes from. Temperatures of about 5000 degrees Kelvin, or about 8500 degrees Fahrenheit, can be reached. This blast of pressure is enough to kill small fish and invertebrates. The snapping shrimp is considered one of the loudest creatures in the ocean, and large colonies of them are loud enough to white out the sonar of submarines.

To give you a better idea of what this all looks like (or just to see a shrimp get blasted) watch this video:

Until next time,

Invasive Species update: Volitan Lionfish



They came from foreign waters. With stealth, appetite, and agility on their side, they’ve become one of the most successful invasive species in recent history, and realistically, the invasion has only just begun. Their deadly and dizzying beauty is of little consolation to those following the invasion of the Volitan Lionfish.
About a year ago, Dave posted a blog on lionfish as invasive species and the responsibility of aquarists to not release non-native species into waterways. Brandon has followed up with similar articles on some other invasive non-native species, too. Just this week I came across 2 more recent articles about the lionfish invasion, this time about populations established in the Caribbean and off the coast for Florida. I wanted to bring you the articles and an update, as the problem is only getting worse as we could have predicted.

Both articles pinpoint the beginning of the problem as six specimens that escaped into open waterways from a Miami waterfront aquarium that was smashed during hurricane Andrew in 1992, though it is highly likely that there were other contributions, too. It is becoming a serious concern as the predators multiply, their numbers in the thousands, and devastate native populations. The articles liken the invasion to a plague of locusts. NOAA studies show that the populations in some areas have increased tremendously, from 22 per hectare in 2004 to 200 per hectare in 2008. The predators are having a huge effect on commercial fish populations and populations of herbivores that keep algae and other marine vegetation at bay, especially on reefs.

As the drama unfolds, it really is compelling to read about, and it will be interesting and scary to see what will happen in the next couple of years if there are no solutions found to keep the populations in check. Scientists are scurrying to find natural predators of lionfish to aid in control, and they’re encouraging fishermen and restaurants to utilize them as entrees. It’s open season on these fish in many places, but with such huge numbers and range, the outlook is bleak for control…disturbing on so many levels.

Until next time, Patty


New Web Tool for Identifying Coral and Aquarium Fish in the Field –

Eileen here. Most aquarists have a virtual library of books, websites, magazine, and forums that we like to help identify new fish and invertebrates. I have 5 books on my own desk here and at least a dozen website bookmarks to reference and cross-reference our new arrivals and “unknowns”. Earlier this year, a new website joined those ranks for quick coral identifications. Now that same website has gone even farther and included saltwater fish in their online guides.  is the product of Jake Adams and his decades of aquarium experience. The coral guide has 17 categories, including clams and anemones, and can be downloaded at no charge from their website. Unlike some field guide-style identification books, most of the pictures in this guide were taken in aquariums, under aquarium lighting, and of specimens that can actually be found in aquariums. Best of all, the guide can be downloaded onto most mobile devices as well as your computer desktop. Just think – instead of lugging a book to your local fish store, you can just take in your iPod to help you identify the new corals in their tanks.

Now, as of October 8th, Coralidea has officially launched Fishidea, their new saltwater fish identification guide. While not as complete as some of the common books available, Fishidea has the most common saltwater fish (as well as some downright rare species) listed in 18 categories. Unlike Coralidea, Fishidea has species information listed for most of its entries, including hardiness, compatibility, size and diet.

Both Coralidea and Fishidea are considered “works in progress” on the website and the website itself is increasing in functionality as Jake and crew add the photos directly to the site for viewing. These guides are a great way to take a reference with you and its another great addition to the “libraries” of many of our staff biologists and aquatics staff. Besides that, there are just some really great pictures. Don’t forget to download some of their wallpapers while you visit the site!